WAMC for March 14
Dr Steven Leibo is the Sage College’s Professor of International History & Politics.
Barack Obama: Lame Duck President?
Frankly, I am concerned about the president. Sure he has been reelected and will never have to run again. But being president, is about making a difference, making the change he called for in his first administration and we heard about so many times during his reelection.
And yes, his supporters have generally been understanding. Ok, there was a lot of grousing done about things left undone in the first term, too many compromises on health care, his unwillingness to even try for a public health insurance option for those of us too young for Medicare.
But his supporters knew they had elected a president, not a dictator, that his powers, however impressive were limited. Not forgetting that his political enemies, set from his first days in office, on destroying not only him but any lasting legacy he might leave.
But while he will obviously serve out the next for years there is a very real chance this president might be about to turn himself into a lame duck president. Indeed If he cannot maintain his popular base, he might well become the fastest lame duck in American history. And that base is awfully sophisticated, not the sort who would allow themselves to be invited to a phony tea party by a bunchy of rich industrialists.
No, they understand the president’s powers are limited. They know that on most issues, especially domestic he cannot act without Congress, but there are a few areas where an American president really has power. Most obviously in foreign policy, as our previous president so often reminded us. A president may not be able to declare war without the consent of Congress but the commander and chief can send the troops in.
No, in the international arena a president can act much more independently and President Obama’s supporters know that. And yes, they know that in his first term he earned great credit pushing green energy. But they also know he failed miserably to use the bully pulpit of the presidency to help Americans understand the urgency of the climate crisis. To help them understand that the physics of global warming do not care that we are making progress. That it is not enough to proudly proclaim all sorts of new technologies of energy efficiency and renewable green energy. That he failed to help Americans understand that the only thing that matters is getting the planetary heat balance back in equilibrium.
No, on that score, as educator in chief, Obama failed miserably, a failing he has obviously acknowledged both in his inaugural address and the state of the union that followed. And now his first real test has arrived, the question not of whether we will gently move toward more green energy but begin the dramatic shift away from the some of the most filthy of the fossil fuels by rejecting the dirtiest of them all the infamous Canadian Tar sands.
And yes indeed his followers are sophisticated, they know the president’s powers are limited. But they know as well, that precisely because those climate crashing tar sands begin in Canada. This president alone can make the decision. And if he does the right thing he will have shown the leadership his presidency promised.
But if at this absolute juncture, he allows that keystone tar sands pipeline to be approved, if he lets his clever but dangerous “all the above” administrative energy polity prevail this time President Obama is most likely going to see his support collapse, left high and dry for his enemies to nibble on over the next four years. Leaving the rest of us trapped as we currently are between the victims of the East Coast’s super storm Sandy and the Midwest’s current historic drought.